Travel scams and crimes can run rampant in popular cities full of foreign tourists, unbeknownst to them.
There are so many different types of scams to be aware of. Many cities have signs posted to warn visitors of pickpockets in busy areas like city center squares, buses, subways, and other chaotic places.
In general, one of the best pieces of advice I could give a new traveler is always to remain consciously aware of your possessions and your surroundings. For an added level of peace of mind, you can purchase anti-theft backpacks like the ones I use as a deterrent against this type of crime.
Of course, anti-theft backpacks will only get you so far. Crime can, unfortunately, be far more dangerous… fast… aggressive… and difficult to recognize.
I’ve witnessed (and experienced) various forms of crimes & scams in many countries. In Poland, a beggar tried to steal my backpack while I was eating. In Spain, I witnessed a pickpocket in action but I didn’t realize what was happening until it was too late. I informed the couple about what I believed I saw, but I didn’t react fast enough and her wallet was gone. A lesson learned…
By far, the most extreme instance of this for me was the time a child attempted to steal cash from me in Sarajevo while I was withdrawing money from an ATM.
My story is classic example of why you need to remain aware of your surroundings.
In the center of a busy city, I thought I could safely use an ATM to withdraw cash since so many ordinary people were passing by. After all, if the machine was located right there… you would think it would be safe to use then, right?
Ah… if only it were so simple.
I still remember this incident quite vividly as the shock factor from it was… so extreme.. for me.
I was standing in the center of Sarajevo when I approached an ATM to withdraw cash for lunch. At the machine, I looked around quickly and went ahead to punch in my PIN. On the machine’s screen, I selected the button for the number of Bosnian Marks that I wanted to take out.
As I made the selection, a small kid appeared on my left. I immediately assumed he was going to ask for my money as Sarajevo’s city center has many children (and people in general) walking around asking for money from visitors.
Before I knew it, this kid reached out and slammed his hand against the cash dispenser.
In disbelief, I saw his hand covering the dispensor. This kid had every intension of stealing my money and if I didn’t stop him, he was going to run away with it. Every possible moral dilemna whirled through my mind as I was dealing with a child-thief instead of an adult.
Instinctively, I immediately reached over to his arm and tugged it away from the machine and proceeded to cover the dispensor with my right hand while blocking his body with my left arm.
I had a large sum of cash that I needed to withdraw at once to minimize ATM fees knowing I would need cash for the duration of my visit. Many small places would not accept credit cards there.
Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t have minded giving this kid some money but I was so upset over the situation that I no longer wanted to. Unethical behavior doesn’t exactly win me over. He tried to trick me and steal from me.
I felt sad that his family must have put him up to this type of crime, trained him on how to steal, and those same people were probably too cowardly to face people themselves. Deeply disturbed by his actions, I took that money with a tight grip and swiftly turned to get away.
AS I’M LEAVING, THIS KID PROCEEDS TO RUN AND JUMP ONTO MY BACK… With his legs wrapped tightly around my waist, he shoved both of his arms deep into my pockets.
I couldn’t believe he jumped on me. In the streets of Sarajevo, I had to shake this kid off of my back with his fingers prying at my hands scratching into my skin trying to get my money.
I still remember my mind whirling with thoughts flashing through my head of how far this kid was going to go… what I might need to do to get him off of my back… if people would intervene… if he was going to end up stealing my money… might he also have a knife or some weapon?
I managed to push him off and at that point when he fell off, he began to run away. I made a beeline for home and kept checking to make sure I wasn’t being followed.
The whole situation was a very ‘WTF moment’ in my mind. The fact that I had this random kid gripping onto my back like some human leech with one hand deep in each of my pockets.
Talk about an uncomfortable feeling…
The lengths he was willing to go to steal from me.
On one hand, it makes me so deeply sad to see people put in a position of desperation like that. To be so low that you resort to stealing. On the other hand, I have no respect for criminals, thieves, or scammers.
As if I didn’t have enough anxiety and paranoia while traveling there, this did very little to help with all that.
Be safe out there.